Manipulation in “The Song of Roland”

The First Crusade took place from the year 1096 to 1099. According to Robert the Monk’s retelling of Pope Urban II’s speech at the Council of Clermont, the Pope describes the opponent as, “… a race from the kingdom of the Persians, an accursed race, a race entirely alienated from God, a generation forsooth which has not directed its heart and has actually not entrusted its spirit to God …” This description is indicated to set the Christians, whom Pope Urban was addressing, apart from the pagans. The Tune of Roland served a similar purpose for the French individuals at the time of the 2nd Crusade, almost fifty years later on. By controling the details of the actual Battle of Roncevaux Pass, The Tune of Roland exposes a country caught up in the hatred of foreign and pagan cultures in the midst of the 2nd Crusade.

The Song of Roland is based on the Fight of Roncevaux Pass that occurred in 778; nevertheless, the story’s author took lots of liberties in his retelling. The fight was originally in between two Christian sides, the Franks and the Basques (source), and the Basque forces would not have actually equaled 400,000 guys as is recommended in the fictionalized version. Charlemagne was also not 200 years of ages.

The distinct difference in between the accurate account of the Fight of Roncevaux Pass and the version informed in The Song of Roland is a curious one. The Song of Roland is thought to have actually been written someplace between 1129 and 1165, almost 400 years after the battle occurred. The story would have been passed by oral custom for those four centuries, and it is not a stretch to assume that many details would not remain the same. However, it is unlikely that the opposing force could have altered from the Basques to the Saracens naturally. Instead, the author of The Tune of Roland may have made this change intentionally as a kind of propaganda for the Second Crusade. A story that brought about the exact kind of religious zeal that caused the Crusades in the first location.

Though they were partly included, the First Crusade unfolded mainly without France. When the Second Crusade happened, nevertheless, the French were eager to fight. The French Christians possessed a real hatred for the Muslims that they would eventually war against, and that hatred is depicted, and possibly even magnified in, The Tune of Roland. Brewster Fitz states in his short article, “Cain as Convict and Convert? Cross-cultural Reasoning in the Song of Roland,” that:

The narrative of the Tune of Roland jobs a brand-new order of Christianity, which stands in relation to the pre-crusading order as the New Testament era to the Old Testament period. Such a narrative is guilt-driven. Its telos is to evaluate, found guilty, kill or transform all kinds of the Other, whether within or without, while sacrificially discharging extreme guilt. (Fitz 812)

This objective of Christianizing the whole world is precisely the line of believing that triggered the Crusades, and The Song of Roland presumes as to control history in order to put forth a message supporting that line of thinking. Remarkably, the 2nd Crusade happened from 1147-1149, a three year period that fits perfectly within the time frame in which The Song of Roland was apparently written. This supports the theory that the Basques were transformed into the Saracens so that the fight could be considered as a spiritual one, a clear instance of Muslim treachery in history that the French might draw from in their reality fight versus pagan culture.

Focusing now on the fictional account, The Tune of Roland focuses on 2 specific groups: the Franks and the Saracens. The Franks are the “good guys,” the group that the reader is meant to connect with and root for. The Franks are Christians, God-fearing men who hold their religion very much. They are depicted as an upright and caring individuals, even presuming regarding the pray for their enemies the Saracens. Though a small information, it is likewise worth pointing out that the Franks are a fair-skinned individuals as this is in deliberate contrast with the darker skin of the Saracens. Their leader, Charlemagne is described as mighty and righteous. In the extremely first verse it states:

Charles the King, our Lord and Sovereign,
Full seven years hath sojourned in Spain,
Conquered the land, and won the western main,
Now no fortress versus him doth remain. (Roland 1.1-4)

Charlemagne is a sovereign ruler and a magnificent conqueror. This little bit of homage would have instantly won the support of any twelfth-century Frenchmen.

If the Franks are a portrait of morality and factor, the Saracens are the opposite. The Saracens are pagans who do not worship the true God. Their king, Marsile, “feareth not God’s name,” (1.7) and he “conjures up Apollin’s aid,” (1.8 ). Apollin probably refers to the Greek god Apollo, a divine being that the Franks would have thought about pagan. If this contrast was not enough, the author states:

King Marsilies he lay at Sarraguce,
Went he his method into an orchard cool;
There on a throne he sate, of marble blue. (2.1-3)

Charlemagne journeys, conquers, rules. On the other hand, King Marsilies “lays” in his cool orchard where he sits easily on his throne. He is not a strong, motivating leader like Charlemagne, however the opposite. In addition, the Saracens, as the villains, are simply interpreted as evil. Their only objective is to defeat the just and righteous Franks.

These Saracens are thought about the cultural “other” in The Tune of Roland due to the fact that their culture is pitted versus that of the Franks. Their differences are highlighted to display the contrast between the two races of people, and even more seal the Franks as the indisputable “good guys.” Parallelism is used to draw fast comparisons between the Franks and the Saracens. The Franks are Christian, and the Saracens are pagans. The Franks are a loving people and the Saracens are not. The Franks are fair-skinned, and the Saracens have dark skin. This technique develops 2 sides, one noticeably excellent and one distinctly bad, and helps the reader to end up being involved in the story rapidly by placing everything, actually, in black and white terms. This practice is common in all durations of literature; however, it is especially crucial in The Song of Roland due to the historical context of the tale. This defining of the Saracens as the “other” is in keeping with Fitz’s analysis of the supposed “brand-new age of Christianity” in which all “others” must be transformed or damaged. Andreas Kablitz says, with concerns to religion and violence in The Song of Roland, that:

In this chanson de geste, Charlemagne’s battle versus the Moslems seems a model of every crusade, to the degree that, despite all the chances, Christians-the French in this case-will win a definitive victory. The argument appears to hold that their unwavering belief in Christ will make the French strong enough to defeat the pagan opponent. That belief was succinctly expressed in the famous apothegm: “Paien unt tort et crestens unt dreit” [” Pagans remain in the wrong: Christians are in the right”]

The last line of that quote is the most crucial. The French truly believed that the Pagans were in the incorrect and the Christians were in the right. This idea warranted religious wars such as the Crusades in the minds of the Franks, and as the parallelism in The Tune of Roland suggests, is the whole basis for Charlemagne’s fictitious war versus the Saracens.

Additional evidence of The Song of Roland as very finely veiled political propaganda is cluttered throughout the story, concealed in plain sight in the author’s word option and obviously biased analysis. Seated in his orchard, Marsile states Charles and the French forces to be exceptional. He states to his advisors:

My Lords, provide ear to our upcoming doom:
That Emperour, Charles of France the Douce,
Into this land is come, us to confuse.
I have no host in fight him to show,
Nor have I strength his forces to undo. (2.6-10)

Charlemagne displays chivalrous virtue and militaristic confidence by facing his opponent head-on. Marsile, on the other hand, thinks his to be the weaker people, and depends on unethical techniques in order to get the much better of the Franks. The treacherous Guene, or Ganelon, arrives in King Marsilies court to deliver Charlemagne’s message that the Saracens need to “receive the holy Christian Faith” (33.7 ); nevertheless, Marsile will hear none of it, and soon Ganelon’s ulterior motives come to light. He suggests that Marsile should sneak up on the French business. His recommendations is as follows:

Five rating thousand pagans upon them lead,
Franks unawares in fight you will satisfy,
Bruised and bled white the race of Franks shall be; (44.9-11)

Marsile leaps at a chance to eliminate the Franks, rather than convert to their “real” faith, and while doing so he ignores all honor and ethical predicaments in a classically pagan style.

It is difficult to understand for specific what motivated these specific changes to the story of The Battle of Roncevaux Pass; nevertheless, there are numerous indications including the time period in which The Tune of Roland was authored, as well as the shift from a Christian enemy to a Muslim one, that suggest these changes were planned to invoke feelings of religious passion and a strong hatred towards pagan cultures. The French people, in addition to a number of other Christian groups at the time of the Crusades, thought that it was their responsibility to clean the world of wicked pagans, and The Tune of Roland serves as a perfect reflection of that imagined responsibility.

Functions Cited:

Fitz, Brewster E. “Cain as Convict and Convert? Cross-Cultural Logic in the “Song of Roland”” MLN 113.4 (1998 ): 812-22. Jstor. Johns Hopkins University Press. Web. 26 May 2015.

Kablitz, Andreas. “Religious beliefs and Violence in the Tune of Roland.” MLN 126.4 (2011 ): S115, S158, S181. ProQuest. 26 May 2015.

Moncrief, C. K., trans. The Tune of Roland. Gutenberg.org. Job Gutenberg, 20 July 2008. Web. 24 May 2015.

“Urban II (1088-1099): Speech at Council of Clermont, 1095.” Medieval Sourcebook. Dec. 1997. Web. 11 May 2015.